14 Irish phrases most people won’t understand abroad

Handy seanfhocail to pass comment without anyone knowing what you mean

It is often said that Irish people are more inclined to use the first language when they travel than in Ireland. Why is this one might ask? Why do they feel freer to speak Irish abroad than they might do at home?

Perhaps it is because they know they will not be judged by their peers or those around them. Perhaps they feel the need to be set apart as Irish. Or perhaps, it gives them the opportunity to pass comment without being understood.

Of course it might be all, some, or none of the above. Whatever the reason, Irish is a living language that can be used in any situation. The following is a list of handy seanfhocail you might use, with suggestions for when you might use them. Chances are those around you will not understand what you are saying. And as the old saying goes: Beatha teanga í a labhairt (the life of a language is to speak it).

Is lia gach othar i ndiaidh a leighis (every patient is a surgeon after he is cured). Listening to a punter on the tube talking loudly about his morning after cure.


Ar mhaithe leis féin a bhíonn an cat ag crónán (the cat purrs only for its own benefit). On hearing a colleague talking loudly about his latest success.

Déan mórán agus can beagán (do a lot and say little). Advice for the above.

Ní dhíolann dearmad fiacha (just because you've forgotten a debt, it doesn't mean you no longer owe it). When someone "forgets" it is their turn to buy the next round.

Siúlach scéalach (chatty traveller). When someone next to you volunteers story after story after story.

Sceitheann fíon fírinne (in vino veritas). To be used at the staff Christmas party.

Tógfaidh dath dubh ach ní thógfaidh dubh dath (a garment can be dyed black but a black cloth cannot be dyed any other colour). It is easier to defame someone than to restore their reputation. To be used the day after the Christmas party (see above).

Bíonn caora dhubh ar an tréad is gile (even the brightest flock has a black sheep). There is always one! To be used at kids birthday parties.

Cuir síoda ar ghabhar is gabhar fós é (put silk on a goat, it will still be a goat). Friday night fashion.

Tarraingíonn scéal scéal eile (one story always leads to another). A good motto for journalists.

Is minic bréag ar aonach (there are many lies at the fair). To be used in the presence of salesmen everywhere.

Má chailleann tú uair ar maidin beidh tú á tóraíocht i rith an lae (if you lose an hour in the morning you'll be looking for it all day). Obey the alarm clock!

Is ait an mac an saol (life is strange). When you hear Irish being spoken in a far-flung land.

Is binn béal ina thost (silence is golden). What you say to someone when you realise they are speaking ill of you in Irish.